Arkansas' 2-for-1 Deal Has Worked Out Great

Because Shreveport, La., Evangel Christian punter Will Russ flipped his commitment from Arkansas to Texas back in 2010, the Razorbacks would eventually add both Zach Hocker and Sam Irwin-Hill to the roster and Hill and Russ will now face off in the Texas Bowl Dec. 29 in Houston

Once upon a time, a young high school punter from Shreveport Evangel Christian named Will Russ committed to Arkansas.

That lasted for a few weeks in January of 2010 until Russ took a trip to Texas and decided to flip his commit from the Razorbacks to the Longhorns.

Now a fifth-year senior, Russ – who has seen action in just 14 games in his career - will be on hand as Texas (6-6) and Arkansas (6-6) in the Texas Bowl in Houston on Dec. 29.

He has averaged 42.3 yards per punt this season – fourth in school history – after being in his two games in his previous four seasons with the Longhorns.

Most Razorback fans would probably like to thank Russ because his de-commit led to Arkansas immediately offering Russellville kicker/punter Zach Hocker and eventually adding current punter Sam Irwin-Hill.

It turned out to be a really good 2-for-1 deal for Arkansas as Hocker went on to become one of the best kickers in school history and was drafted by the Washington Redskins.

The Bendigo, Australian-born Irwin-Hill – on the other hand – will no doubt go down as the most entertaining punters the Razorbacks have had in recent history.

He ran for a 51-yard touchdown against Texas A&M on a fake punt earlier this season as well as picking up a first down against Missouri with a 23-yard jaunt.

Irwin-Hill also completed 1-of-2 passes for 24 yards in 2013 and also picked up a first down running as a junior.

“Well, when I came in here I wanted my product to be a very versatile sort of punter,” Irwin-Hill said. “Not just have the traditional style, but be able to kick left and right footed, and also be able to pass the ball, run the ball.

“Coming from a sport, Australian Rules (Football), I had the ability to be able to do that,” Irwin Hill said. “I wanted to make it evident to the coaches that I had (that ability), and be able to get someone like (Arkansas head) Coach (Bret) Bielema (those options).

“…He's obviously not traditional and he looks for uncommon people, and I felt I fit myself like right in there,” Irwin-Hill added. “Really happy with where it's come and the way people think of me as not a traditional punter.”

After transferring from the City College of San Francisco in 2013 where he was a junior college All-American and chose Arkansas over Miami, Irwin-Hill averaged 44.3 yards per punt – good enough for third in the SEC.

The ambidextrous also led the league with 20 punts inside the 20-yard line, including his final one of the season dying on the LSU one-yard line.

That led to him being named to the Ray Guy list and preseason second-team All-SEC.

“He is a very gifted athlete,” Bielema said. “I go back to when I saw his film. He is a good athlete, can punt right- and left-legged.

“We wanted to give the NFL a chance to see what he can do so I have never rugbyed him this year,” Bielema added. “But he can do it and has done it. Might be a little something for the bowl game.

“One of the things that we have been able to take advantage of is certain looks and be able to execute a plan and our guys have really done a nice job of it,” Bielema continued.

Hill averaged 40.1 yards per punt this season with 23 boots inside the 20 even with a slump during the middle of the season in which he gave way to Toby Baker for what turned out to be one punt.

When Baker’s first punt was short and nearly return for a score, Irwin-Hill was re-inserted and boomed a 54-yarder - his longest of the season.

“Everyone has their rough patches, but having it in a game, that's obviously not what you want to have happen,” Irwin-Hill said. “But at the same time, I came back out and I sat down and I tried to figure a few things out.

“It might have been the wake-up call that I needed,” Irwin-Hill said. “I love my other punter, Toby, he's a really good guy and he's got a bright future. Yeah, it's a part of the game. I thought I came back really well toward the end of the season.”

He felt the support of his teammates during that time.

“No one likes to be told - we are going to drop you for a punt or a game,” Irwin-Hill said. “But to recognize that and understand that sometimes you have to battle through adversity and to be able to come back the way I did and get the support from my teammates the way I did, that obviously definitely helped. And it helped me have a good end to the season.”

Indeed Hill had several kicks over 45 yards and also dropped 10 punts inside the 20 in the last three games as Arkansas gained its bowl berth by downing No. 17 LSU and No. 8 Ole Miss.

“I felt like I was kicking better than ever, better than I have over the four years I've played college football,” Irwin-Hill said. “And I really felt like I was getting into the swing of things.

“That came down to doing a little study and following in my other teammates’ footsteps and just getting in here and researching what it is to do,” Irwin-Hill added, “(working) overtime and make sure I'm focusing on the fundamentals and the small things, like consistent ball drops and what not. I felt like at the end of the season we were really good.”

Irwin-Hill will get a chance to punt inside a dome in the bowl game.

“It doesn't bother me,” Irwin-Hill said of punting outside. “I can play with the wind, against the wind. At the end of the day, the wind is my friend. But to be able to play in a dome, it gives you the opportunity obviously to play with no environment factors. So you are going to change the game up a little bit.”

He’s hoping he gets one more fake punt to go out on.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!” an excited Irwin-Hill said. “With my coach and my ability I believe anything is possible. We have so many tricks up our sleeve you never know what's going to happen.”

Sam Irwin-Hill heads toward the end zone on his 51-yard touchdown run against Texas A&M as former Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel looks on.

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